Thursday, October 11, 2007

City Council Candidates' Positions on Creating a City Planning Department

Two questionnaires for City Council candidates -- Harry Mattison's and APAAC's -- have asked if they support or oppose the creation of a city planning department. This step would take away those city planning responsibilities from the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

An answer of "YES" supports creation of the planning department. The links next to each candidate's name direct you to their answer on the questionnaire.

Four of the candidates for Councilor-At-Large did not respond to either questionnaire (or, in the case of one, did not provide an explanation for his position). Three of these four candidates were asked the question at the candidates forum in Brighton on October 10, 2007. The transcript for their answers is provided at the bottom of this post.

Allston-Brighton District 9 City Council candidates:
  1. Mark Ciommo: YES to hearings on the ordinance; YES to the ordinance itself
  2. Greg Glennon: UNKNOWN (did not respond to either questionnaire)

Candidates for City Councilor-At-Large:
  1. Councilor Felix Arroyo: YES, also see here
  2. John Connolly: NO; see below
  3. William Estrada: UNKNOWN (did not answer question on one questionnaire; did not respond to other questionnaire)
  4. Councilor Michael Flaherty: YES
  5. Matthew Geary: YES; see below
  6. Martin Hogan: YES
  7. Councilor Stephen Murphy: NO; see below
  8. David Wyatt: YES
  9. Councilor Sam Yoon: YES, also see here

The following candidates provided their positions on this issue during the October 10, 2007 candidate forum in Brighton.

QUESTION: Councilor Arroyo has proposed that the city planning part of the BRA's responsibilities be taken away, and that a city planning department be formed instead. Do you support or oppose his proposal?

COUNCILOR STEPHEN MURPHY: Let me say why I have not supported that. The BRA was created by Mayor Collins back in the 1960s. He did so because, at the time, when he had taken over as Mayor the urban renewal had come in, and they were building Government Center. They were trying to re-shape Boston out of its manufacturing past. And they hired a city planner from Connecticut, from New Haven, Ed Loeb [?], to, kind-of, put it all under one roof. Before that, according to Collins, you had Senators and Reps in every neighborhood basically saying, "You're not going to do anything here unless you come through me." So he tried to focus it that way.

Now, is it working the way it was intended? No. But I do believe there are planners up there, and that they know a little bit more about it than elected officials that would try to handle their own fiefdom. So I don't agree with him [Arroyo on that proposal].

JOHN CONNOLLY: I don't think that a separate planning is either a realistic option or is the way to go here. But I do have major concerns about the BRA's inability to hear communities, to hear the community voice, and to play hide-the-ball any time there is a development project pending in a neighborhood. But I think this goes to the heart of this race. Do you want a City Councilor with a strong independent voice who will stand up for you? I will be a Councilor who pushes to make sure that the BRA hears you, that pushes to make sure we have professional planning and a real planning process there, and that we have a strong Council that asserts its voice when it comes to the development process.

Let's also not forget the ZBA. Because we have zoning by variance in this city, and that's not the way it should be. It undermines the integrity of our communities. But when it comes to this race, I hope you are looking for a Councilor with an independent voice who will stand up for you.

MATTHEW GEARY: Yes, I would support that piece of legislation. I believe that Boston needs a democratically-elected planning board. I would respectfully disagree with Councilor Murphy's characterization of the BRA. The BRA, since its inception, has been running the interests of the universities, of the hospitals, of big real estate interests. There is inherent conflict-of-interest in the BRA where the work that it carries out is done in the interest of real estate developers, because the real estate developers line their own coffers. I don't think anyone at this table knows how much money the BRA actually has in their accounts, because they are not accountable, they don't have to report that kind of income. We need a democratically-elected planning board so we can use the land and the resources controlled by the BRA, and use that for community needs. Use the empty lots, and use our resources to consciously have a plan that builds affordable housing, that builds schools and community health clinics.

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